Watercolor paintings – studio organization

Like other artists I spend a great deal of time in my studio. It is a space I generally feel very comfortable in. It includes not just all my art materials and equipment but also my computer, camera gear, completed paintings, etc. I have over 300 books on art and watercolor painting and these get squeezed in as well. Sometimes however it gets so disorganized that I begin to feel less comfortable in it. At this stage my productivity begins to wane. If it gets any worse my creativity drops as well, which is a real shame. For this reason I regularly review how everything is laid out and try to improve the organization of my studio space. I also tidy things up!

Organizing my studio

My aim is to have everything easily accessible. I don’t want to feel I could easily trip over a pile of books or that things are difficult to find.

As it is the start of the new year I thought it was time for another cleanout and rearrangement of my studio to make it easier to create watercolor paintings. I had lost some enthusiasm for painting which was brought on in part by my messy work space.  I found that I was often spending a lot of time looking for things or having to clean objects off my easel before I could start painting. This was slowing my productivity and dampening my creativity. I would like to create some special painting this year and one of the steps towards achieving this is to remove any impediments.

My first step was to go through my stack of watercolor paintings of which I had a few hundred.

Watercolor paintings collection

I went through all of my watercolor paintings to sort them into various categories. After the paintings were sorted they were in turn stored in individual drawers. I find plastic stackable drawers ideal for this function. Full sheet watercolor paintings are stored in a special cabinet I had made which is similar to a map cabinet. I store all of my blank watercolor papers in this same unit.

Watercolor paintings storage system

Watercolor paintings storage system

Some of my older artworks which I had kept over the years were over 15 years old. They were kept for various reason. Some paintings because I wasn’t sure if they were good enough to frame, others because I thought they were milestone works but not worth framing, some were kept as reference for when I would have another go at them. Other paintings had special memories for me so I could not let go of them.

It was interesting to see that while I had been producing some nice work quite early on I was also producing some very poor ones. The nice artworks were for subjects I felt comfortable with and had already mastered. The not so good paintings usually resulted because I was trying something new and had confusions about how to proceed. Some artworks were not worthy of framing but had sections I particularly liked. These I had kept to highlight my improvements and to remind me of what I had learned through the painting. I threw out about a one foot I stack of old watercolor paintings and found the exercise quite invigorating.

Watercolor paintings no longer worthy of a frame will be recycled

Watercolor paintings for recycling

In amongst these old watercolor paintings I found some overlooked gems. They probably got covered by other paintings during one of my prolific periods and got forgotten about. These have now been added to my pile of paintings waiting to be framed. I do not frame any of my work until I’m ready to exhibit them unless it’s a piece that I particularly like and will probably keep for myself. In this way they take up less space in my studio and permit me to make any changes I may discover are needed right until framing time.

In addition to the work that was worthy of being in a frame I also found about half a dozen pieces that had sections that could be cropped out to make very nice watercolor paintings in their own right. These I will keep for more price sensitive exhibitions, for instance, I exhibit a couple of times a year in a local shopping center with one of my art groups, we have found these exhibitions demand lower prices and these smaller works are ideal.

A few works were just incomplete or their failings could be fixed and the painting salvaged. These went to another pile.

If you are like me and work best in a fairly ordered environment then it is important to keep your workspace organized. I’m generally very busy not just with my artwork so it is easy for me to wander off doing other things. If I find it is too difficult to get my material ready to start painting I can easily get involved in another non-painting project. I try to keep my studio in a state where I can start a watercolor painting as soon as the urge hits me.

All of my work is now relegated various categories. These stacks of watercolor paintings include the following:

  • Paintings which I no longer consider worthy of being in a frame or if I have progressed sufficiently as a watercolor artist that I now do much better work of the same subject. These works will be used as scrap paper for testing my water colors while painting. A few I may paint on the back of – though I rarely do this. I will also use some for experimental purposes e.g. washing off most of the water colors and painting over the top, working over sections with pastels or inks, etc. Some sections of your failed paintings can also be cut up and used a book marks.
  • Watercolor paintings ready to be framed, stored by size. They range from small 16th sheet paintings (7” x 5” or 18 cm x 13 cm) up to full sheet watercolors.
  • Watercolor paintings still not completed
  • Pen and wash works.
  • Pen and ink works.
  • Drawings.
  • Special watercolor paintings used for teaching and reference purposes

Below are some works I was able to crop from works that did not work as larger works of art  but were quite good watercolor paintings in the cropped form.

6 thoughts on “Watercolor paintings – studio organization

  1. Ian McKendrick

    Sounds like you had a great time sorting all of that out!
    I’ve been living a slightly nomadic lifestyle over the last 6 months due to some massive life changes since my heart attack last year, and I can’t wait to get settled down in a studio I can call “home” again!

  2. Joe Post author

    Sorry to hear about you heart attack Ian. Must have been very frightening. I hope you are well recovered now and you can get into your own studio again soon!

  3. Ellen

    I thought I was the only one with the accumulation problem. I have loose leaf folders filled with reference material. I have put the papers in vinyl pockets. I have each loose leaf labeled. That is about the only organized part of my painting area. I have my chinese brush paintings which are on fragile rice paper in vinyl bins. I save parts of paintings for cards.
    Too much stuff!

  4. Beka

    cutting down paintings is something I wouldn’t have thought about! Do you cut them down to the best cropping or an average size like an 8×10?

  5. Joe Post author

    Usually I look for the best crop for a standard size i.e. quarter watercolor sheet or eight watercolor sheet. This is so I do not end up with too many different frame sizes. But if the crop produced a special painting at a unique size then I would go with that as well. Usually crop to one of my standard sizes however. These smaller works are for exhibitions where price is restricted.

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